Women Engineers: It's the Lousy Work Culture, Stupid

Susan Hall

Although my colleague Ann All wrote that <strong>blaming men won't reverse the dearth of women in tech</strong>, a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in effect does, or at least company culture.


It found that women engineers were more likely to leave the field because they were uncomfortable with the work culture than for family reasons. According to co-author Nadya Fouad, a UW-Milwaukee professor of educational psychology:

Some women are leaving because of family issues, but that's not the majority who responded to our survey.

So while Ann asks whether jerks are better innovators, they don't make good bosses.


In a study supported by a half-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, 3,700 women with degrees from 230 universities responded to an online survey. There were four groups: those currently working as engineers, those who got their degree but never entered the field, those who left the profession more than five years ago, and those who left less than five years ago. The subjects were allowed to choose more than one answer.


Among those who had left the field, one in three said they did "because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture," while almost half departed due to "working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary." Ann has written that cultures in which employees are expected to pull all-nighters to "save" projects may discriminate against working mothers.


The Montreal Gazette quotes one respondent, saying:

Engineering school was pure hell for me. My personality inspired much sexist behavior from my male classmates and my teaching assistants. At some point, after many interviews, I decided that I wouldn't want to spend the majority of my waking hours with the type of people interviewing me.

Other key findings:

  • One-third of those who did not go into engineering after graduating said it was because of their perceptions of the field as being inflexible, or the workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.
  • Women's decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate.
  • Women's decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supporters in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers.
  • Opportunities for training and development were key to current engineers' career and job satisfaction.
  • Those who wanted to leave their companies were also very likely eventually to leave engineering altogether.
  • Women who graduated with an engineering degree but who did not enter the field are using their knowledge and skills in a number of other fields.


You can read the full report here.

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